You Won’t Find a Civic or a Camry on This List of Best Used Cars to Buy Under $5,000

On this list from Car and Driver, there is a pretty wide range of options if you are looking for the best used cars to buy under $5,000. Most lists like this are looking for reliability. Presumably compiled for the practical buyer, budget lists often base everything on the durability of a car. However, this lineup of cheap used cars keeps driving pleasure in mind. You won’t find a Honda Civic or a Toyota Camry among these used driving machines under $5 grand that are actually cool.

The 2009 Acura TSX is unveiled on March 19, 2008 at the New York International Auto Show
The Acura TSX | STAN HONDA/AFP via Getty Images

Best used cars to buy under $5 grand

First up on this unique cheap used cars list are the Acura TSX and the BMW 5-Series wagon. The Acura is compared to a “gourmet grilled-cheese sandwich.” It’s a good basic commuter car with a luxury twist. Find it with a six-speed manual and a VTEC engine. Car and Driver calls the 2006 – 2006 a “snappy entry-level sports sedan for its time.”

The BMW is a wagon that can be found with a V8 engine. For under $5,000 you’ll be looking at a model with around 200,000 miles. In fact, it might be a bit gritty and worn. But drivers can still find joy behind the wheel of a 2000 – 2009 BMW 5-Series wagon. I mean, come on. It’s a wagon.

Next up on Car and Driver’s best used cars to buy under $5,000 is the Ford Mustang. A 1990s Mustang is fun and loud and always for sale for under $5 grand. Another Ford follows the Mustang offering an entirely different perspective.

The Ford Ranger compact pickup truck is one of the best from the era of truly tiny trucks. This generation of the Ford Ranger pickup truck ran from 1998 to 2012. Some of the older ones lack ABS in the front or on all four. Still, this is a great addition to the list of best used cars to buy under $5 grand. It’s a trusty tool of a pickup, and it’s definitely no Honda Civic or Toyota Camry.

a far cry from a Toyota Camry or a Honda Civic, this little pickup truck is an absolute workhorse making it one of the best used cars to buy under $5,000
2006 Ford Ranger | Ford

There may not be a Toyota Camry or a Honda Civic, but the legendary Accord is a staple

For 34 years, the Honda Accord has been on the C/D 10Best list. 2003 was the first model of the seventh generation. There really can’t be an article about cheap used cars without the legendary Accord on the list.

“The Accord has always been an overachieving driver’s car sold to commuters who might never explore its fun side.”

Clifford Atiye | Car and Driver
President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Honda Siel Cars India Ltd. H Yamada walk pass the all new Honda Accord car during its launch in New Delhi, 10 June 2003
The 2003 Honda Accord | PRAKASH SINGH/AFP via Getty Images

Another Honda makes the cut for the C/D list of the best used cars to buy under $5,000. This one is a bit more out of left field though. The Honda Insight hybrid car, according to C/D, is “a great choice for people who don’t want to spend a bunch of money at the dealership, the gas station, or the parts store.”

A departure from the two Hondas, the Infiniti J30 is the model we see next on the list. Then another Infiniti, but it’s the off-road oriented Infiniti QX4 luxury SUV.

What’s a best (or worst) list without a Jeep?

Whether it’s out of love or hate, a Jeep model usually makes nearly every list somehow. The Jeep Wrangler is another off-road SUV on this unique list of the best used cars to buy under $5,000. To get a Wrangler for under $5 grand you’ll have to go high mileage and old model year. It lacks the luxury interior of the Infiniti QX4, but it can take you virtually anywhere.

History of the Jeep Wrangler
History of the Jeep Wrangler | National Motor Museum/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Next on this list of cheap used cars under $5 grand is the Lexus LS400, an ancient Japanese luxury car that forged its way into a German-dominated segment with rock-solid reliability. Then there’s the Mazda Miata. This is one that C/D claims is perfect for anyone who doesn’t need something larger. Finding one between the 2001 and 2005 model years is especially desirable for the upgraded chassis and improved lights.

Six-figure deflation

The Mercedes-Benz W140 S-Class entered the market in its 1992 model year. According to C/D, the “six-cylinder 300SE started at a touch less than $70,000 in 1992 dollars, and the 389-hp V-12 was more than $120,000.” Today you can find them under $5,000. These are easily one of the most opulent cheap used cars.

The side view of a black V12-powered 1992 Mercedes-Benz W140 S-Class sedan far more luxurious than a Toyota Camry
1992 Mercedes-Benz W140 600SEL | Mercedes-Benz

Next on the list is––if you can find an example that’s not completely rusted out––the Dodge Ram from between 1994 – 2002. The Subaru Baja almost makes the cut, but they are near impossible to find for the sub-$5,000 price point. C/D then adds the Toyota Sequoia to the list of best used cars to buy under $5,000. These family-hauling beasts barely age and even if the one you find has ticked past 200,000 miles it likely has a lot left to give.

Volvo takes the win

The winner of the best used cars to buy under $5 grand is––shocker––an old Volvo. The Volvo S70 received softer exterior looks in 1993 and some important safety features in 1998. Clifford Atiyeh with C/D actually owns one.


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For the price, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything sturdier, safer, or more reliable. Besides for some minor issues like power window function, these faithful Swedish staples just don’t die. They are still in high demand and sell quick even for thousands of dollars. It tops the C/D list of the best used cars to buy under $5,000––even though it’s not a Toyota Camry or a Honda Civic.